Top critical review
Mostly conventional despite the title but a few stories do stand out
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on January 17, 2010
Vile Things: Extreme Deviations of Horror is something of a mixed bag. What you get out of it will largely depend on just what you're looking for when you want to read horror. If you want stories that will make you squirm, then Vile Things will definitely succeed on that level. Every story in this anthology has a fairly high "ick" factor and if that's what scares you, then this is definitely an anthology you'll want to read.
For myself, however, this anthology was a bit disappointing. When I see a sub-title promising "Extreme Deviations of Horror", I expect stories that will really push the envelope, that will be so unsettling as to generate controversy or come with a cautionary note. Vile Things is not, despite its title, one of those anthologies. Most of the stories were - other than the high ick factor - fairly conventional, and far too many rely on what I would term the 'outside agent' factor, i.e. horrible things happen but it's because of some third-party making them happen, which both distances the reader from the horror and removes any responsibility for the character's actions. It's the literary equivalent of "The devil made me do it!", which is not at all the same as a deal-with-the-devil story. For me, real horror, the best horror, leaves the reader unsettled, altering their world view in such a way that they don't feel quite as safe or comfortable as they did before reading the story. A really good horror story will stay with the reader long, long after the reading is done.
From that perspective, there are a few stories here that I can recommend, first and foremost being Ramsey Campbell's "Again" where a lone hiker takes the path less traveled and witnesses something that neither he nor the reader will ever be able to get out of their head. It is a mark of Campbell's mastery of the genre that he twists the knife at the very end with a single word that takes the reader from being merely repulsed to being truly horrified. Tim Curran's "Maggots" follows the descent of a French soldier in Napoleon's retreat from Moscow from desperation into damnation. While it relies on an outside agent, it is the best ghoul story I've ever read, all the more so as it is told from the ghoul's point of view. If you've ever wondered what it would be mean to be a ghoul - and why you'd never, ever want to be one - this is a must read. Jeffrey Thomas' "Rat King" takes on a seemingly overused plot - a Nazi concentration camp guard becomes the victim of his victims - but takes it in a very disturbing direction. And even as you realize that this isn't the story you'd expected it to be, you will not be able to stop until the very end, when the unnamed guard's parting words leave you feeling unsettled and unclean.
All in all, this is not a bad anthology. At least three of the stories are first-rate by any horror standard, and the rest are really a matter of just what in particular the reader is looking for in horror. If you want something that will make you squirm and keep you squirming from beginning to end, then this is a book you'll want to read. If you want something that will unsettle you, that will stick uncomfortably in your mind long after you've put the book aside, then the three stories I mentioned will make it worth your while.